Tracey Thorn cops a fair amount of unwarranted flak, largely I guess due to her refusal to compromise the doe-eyed sadness in her voice. In some ways, she’s the female Thom Yorke, her intonation possessed of a world-weariness almost out of proportion to lived experience. It’s a nails-down-chalkboard experience for her detractors, while fans celebrate the sour-lemon, bittersweet tang of her delivery, her entire throat/voice-box/mouth connection about to break into perpetual sob.
Out of the Woods won’t change anything if you’re not part of the inner circle, but for Thorn fans – and I’m out and proud here – it’s her most significant pass since her host outfit Everything But The Girl’s 1990s run of singles. Produced by wonder-boy Ewan Pearson, with contributions from Charles Webster and Metro Area’s Darshan Jesrani among others, it serves a similar function to EBTG’s “Missing” and “Walking Wounded,” positioning Thorn just outside of dance music’s feverish orbits. Which is to say that while she’s not exactly a centrifugal force, with Pearson at her side she makes some canny interventions, such as her cover of Arthur Russell’s sex hymn “Get Around to it.”
Most affecting, though, is the thread of reminisce that runs through Out of the Woods, from the small town blues of “A-Z” to the scrapbook balladry of “Hands Up to the Ceiling,” where Thorn flips through the memory banks to find ”Doisneau’s kiss and Terry Hall, and Siouxsie Sioux and Edwyn too, and Bobby D in ‘63.”Out of the Woods hovers precariously between late night and early morning, drenched in melancholy but beautifully so: the blurry, teary-eyed edges of the dancefloor rarely sound this appealing.
Thorn’s first solo album, her only one until now, was 1983’s A Distant Shore. Recorded just after her first group The Marine Girls split, it dripped with regal sadness, one girl and a guitar singing along to her teenage self in a manner similar to the newly uncovered 1960s studio demos of Vashti Bunyan. Twenty-four years later, Thorn’s still humming along to the same metronome. Out of the Woods is a quiet triumph; the production’s modernized, but she’s true to the teen within. I think that’s what we call internal integrity.
And do I even detect the coquettish turning of a new leaf in the upful electro of album closer “Raise the Roof”? She may end with the sigh ”Don’t tell me it’s too late,” but there’s wisdom in the song’s becalmed plea. Does that sound soppy? Well, Thorn’s greatest skill is returning seemingly mawkish observations to their original status as tough truths.